When you're a young center in the NBA and an opportunity arises to work one-on-one with one of the greatest low-post threats in league history, you take it and milk it for all it's worth.
That's exactly the opportunity 22-year-old Jonas Valanciunas will have this summer when he works out with Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon.
Since retiring, Olajuwon has worked with a who's who of some of the brightest young stars in the game today. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Brook Lopez, Kenneth Faried and a slew of others have all been taught by the master of "The Dream Shake."
Valanciunas will now add his name to that list in hopes of refining his skill set and maybe learning a few new things along the way. With such a great mind at his disposal, it would be crazy to think that he wouldn't be able to add a couple of new tricks to his repertoire before it's all said and done.
In 81 games last season for the Toronto Raptors, Valanciunas averaged 11.3 points on 53.1 percent shooting, including 8.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 28.2 minutes. In Toronto's epic seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets, Valanciunas was just as effective, as he averaged a near double-double of 10.9 points and 9.7 rebounds on 63.3 percent shooting.
He's certainly not a lost cause who will be starting from scratch with Olajuwon. Valanciunas has proven after just two years in the league that he could one day be considered elite at his position, but that's only if he continues to put time in at the gym, working closely with his coaches and training staff.
Olajuwon is no stranger to the Raptors organization, having finished his career north of the border in 2001-02. His 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds weren't numbers becoming of a two-time NBA champion and former league MVP (1994), so it's no wonder so many fans have erased his memory from Raptors folklore.
Even so, his time in Toronto doesn't tarnish his legendary career, nor does it come close to blemishing his reputation as one of the very best rim-protectors and back-to-the-basket players we've ever seen.
Valanciunas has shown glimpses of greatness in pivotal games while wearing the colours of Canada's team. There's only so much a human being can learn in a condensed period of time, so it will be of the utmost importance that he pay attention and absorb as much from his sessions with Olajuwon as possible.
Evolve Low-Post Game
According to SynergySports, Valanciunas shot 48.7 percent whenever he posted up last season. Thirty-two percent of his total points came from the post, where he scored on 45.9 percent of his possessions.
Standing at 6'11" and weighing 231 pounds, Valanciunas has the physical capabilities to outmuscle some defenders, but not all of them. Relying on strength alone isn't much of a strategy. Adapting to what the defense is presenting him is key.
If he has a clear-cut size advantage, he knows enough to take advantage; however, when he's on the opposite end of the spectrum, Valanciunas can get flustered.
He doesn't have a go-to move in his arsenal that he can rely on at a moment's notice. When things get tough under the basket, having that kind of move can be the difference between an easy bucket or an altered and awkward shot.
Valanciunas has shown somewhat of a fondness for the running hook shot, though. He nailed 92 of his 158 attempts for a respectable 58.2 percent. He favoured driving right, tossing up high-arching hooks as he did his best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar impression.
It's not the worst move a big can go to, but Valanciunas needs more, whether it be by going to his left hand or by playing back-to-the-basket and working over his man the old-fashioned way.
If anyone can aid in this department, it's Olajuwon. Post moves and "Dream Shakes" are his game.
Olajuwon was a master at using his body in the low block. He was a very detail-oriented center who exploited lapses on the defensive end with such ease and grace. He played the game two steps ahead of the opposition, high basketball IQ and all.
The best-case scenario would be for Valanciunas to leave these workouts with one or two key moves that he's comfortable enough executing in-game. Not only will it boost his confidence, but it will also keep the defense on its toes.
Protecting the Rim
Valanciunas will be the first to admit that his defense isn't quite where it needs to be. A man of his stature shouldn't be averaging less than one block a game.
He even brought it up during his year-end presser when asked about what he needs to work on for next season:
Defensive skills. Be able to protect the rim better. My physicality. My running technique and strength.
I need to work with my head. I have to control myself more.
Being a good blocker has a lot to do with timing. The more Valanciunas sees the court, the more he'll learn the nuances of certain players and their tendencies shooting the basketball.
He's a very aggressive defender, picking up fouls early in games and heading to the pine when the Raptors need him most. His 270 personal fouls were 10th-most in the NBA in 2013-14, per ESPN.com.
Olajuwon should be able to show Valanciunas how to carefully pick his battles and how to use his hands properly without the refs getting on his back for silly touch fouls.
Teams need to dread taking the ball down the lane with Valanciunas in the middle. There needs to be an aura around that spot to the point where players think twice before attacking the rim.
Valanciunas can be that guy.
All statistics are up-to-date as of May 25 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Christopher Walder is a freelance writer who has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, SI.com and several other online outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports.
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